Western Digital's New WD TV Does Netflix

By  |  Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 5:00 am

There are a gazillion ways to watch movies and TV shows on the Internet, and I’m not sure if any of them are more fundamentally appealing than Netflix’s Watch Instantly: It’s reasonably priced, fun to use, and bursting at the seams with stuff worth watching. Small wonder that it’s among the most widely-supported services on gadgets that let you connect an HDTV to your home network–the latest of which is Western Digital’s $150  WD HD Live Plus HD. I tried a unit loaned to me by Western Digital.

Physically, the WD TV Live Plus HD looks like earlier incarnations of WD TV and reminds me of Roku’s player: It’s about the size of a thick sandwich, and plugs into your TV via component cables or HDMI (the latter cable isn’t included). Unlike Roku, it doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi–you’ve got to connect it to your network via Ethernet or spring for an extra-cost Wi-Fi adapter. I used the former approach, and found that the box worked with minimal setup.

Most devices with Netflix support only give you access to videos that you’ve previously placed in your Instant Queue in a PC-based browser. WD TV, however, also lets you browse Netflix’s entire collection right on your TV. The implementation of this idea isn’t as slick as on the Roku, which lets you scroll through titles both horizontally and vertically to speed browsing, and which lets you do text searches. But it’s still better than average. (Western Digital rival Seagate already offered Netflix on its similar TV boxes.)

The box supports a bunch of other streaming services: Pandora, Live 365, YouTube, Flickr, and Mediafly (which provides access to video podcasts). The one type of service that’s conspicuously absent is something that would let you watch new movies, such as Amazon Video on Demand, Vudu, or CinemaNow.

As with previous versions of WD TV, this box is as much about your own content as it is about services that deliver entertainment across the Net. It sports two USB ports for plugging in hard disks and thumb drives, and can also talk to networked drives and UPnP/DLNA devices on your network. A bevy of file formats are supported, and this is the first version of WD TV that gives you access to the menus on ripped DVDs. All of which makes it a convenient way to get your digital movies, music, and photos onto an HDTV.

I streamed video (high- and standard-definition) and music off a USB drive, network drives, and the Internet. Everything played with hiccup-free goodness. The WD TV interface for browsing and playing files is servicable enough, but–as with all the other interfaces of this sort I’ve tried–it resembles a PC file manager and therefore feels a bit like work.

The one showstopping problem I encountered was with Windows 7’s Play To feature, which should have let me route media files on a PC to the WD TV for playback. I couldn’t get it to work–and neither Windows 7 nor Western Digital’s documentation offered enough explanation of the feature or troubleshooting tips.

I’m still looking for a device that truly degeekifies networked digital video to the same degree that Sonos has long done with music. (Maybe Dlink’s upcoming Boxee Box will do the trick once it finally ships.) But if you’re a Netflix devotee who also has a sizable collection of digital entertainment, the new WD TV is worth a look.


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13 Comments For This Post

  1. Tim Joiner Says:

    I’ve had my WD TV Live for quite a while, and I’m very happy with it. Windows 7 Play To works great with it. I’m more than a little upset, though, that WD chose to release a “plus” version with Netflix streaming rather than add it to the WD TV Live as a firmware update. That seems to be the only difference between the two models.

  2. john Says:

    So, do you have you WD TV hooked up to WD? if so, how do you do you download the Netflix on to your WD. Like you, I have an older version and I have an account with Netflix and want to start using my WD TV.

  3. Sean Says:

    that was my thought exactly, they could introduce the new version, and also provide a way for WD Live users to do the same. I have two of those little boxes and love them…but don’t want this to turn into ‘need to buy the new version each year.’ of course, I’m sure WD would like it the other way.

  4. Andy G Says:

    I agree totally with Tim and Sean. It's a bit rude of WD not to offer the Netflix (etc) feature as a fw upgrade to existing WD TV Live owners. Let's face it, for $170, walmart.com will sell you an LG wireless enabled Blu Ray player, that does all the WD TV Plus does, plus plays real discs.

  5. Jeff Says:

    The “Plus” isn’t just a firmware update, rather, a hardware update altogether. Before the WD Live could support Netflix, it was required to implement copyright protection hardware to ensure such streaming would not result in copyright infringement – meet the WD Live PLUS.

    Or so I’ve read on numerous websites and it stands to make perfect sense. Or, WD may have just wanted to get the consumer to make a new purchase (while I’m all for such conspiracies – common sense dictates that unless WD wanted it’s doors closed, they WOULD need to make such hardware changes).

  6. Adam K Says:

    I have the older WD TV Live HD, and I also have a subscription to Playon.tv, which allows me to stream Netflix and other content (Amazon, Hulu, CBS, ABC, Tv.com, etc.) via Xbox, Wii, or a WD player. Netflix never worked through the WD, though. Then I re-tried it the other night and, voila! I now have streaming Netflix on my WD TV HD via Playon!

  7. Omar Briones Says:

    I don't know for sure, but I think this might help you guys:

    I just found it now, and gonna give it a shot… I share the same problem you guys have… And I agree that WD did business kinda steamy… Customers should always come first & netflix should be a must.

    Hope that site helps!


  8. Hairtham Says:

    Thank You it DID work

  9. Haitham Says:

    But there is monthly service charge? $4.99/m

  10. Paul Web Says:

    Netflix and WDTV is God’s reward for us peace, movie and couch lovers.

  11. Ncr Printing Says:

    The structure of conversation systems has considerably developed to consist of a complicated conversation between sent and wireless networking systems. Wired systems are often integrated when the flexibility of the speaking user is not a concentration.

  12. John Christmas Says:

    Fairy lights are shining bright and I got this as my Christmas present. And just as the review you wrote says, it is a wonderful device that works well and better than expected, at least in my case. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it!

  13. JeremyJay Says:

    Great article Harry . For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix and similar media stations on your WD TV by using UnoTelly or similar tools.

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